Charles de Montesquieu Criticism - Essay

Robert Shakleton (essay date 1964)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Shakleton, Robert. “Montesquieu and Machiavelli: A Reappraisal.” In Essays on Montesquieu and the Enlightenment, edited by David Gilson and Martin Smith, pp. 117-31. Oxford: Alden Press, 1988.

[In this essay, first published in 1964, Shakleton details Machiavelli's influence on Montesquieu, noting the similarities in several passages from many of Montesquieu's earlier works. Shakleton suggests that while Montesquieu took much from Machiavelli on religion and the republic, many of the borrowed ideas were merely a stimulus for Montesquieu to develop a broader philosophy.]

The names of the President of the Parlement of Bordeaux and of the Florentine Secretary...

(The entire section is 6718 words.)

Mark H. Waddicor (essay date 1970)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Waddicor, Mark H. “The Originality of Montesquieu's Method.” In Montesquieu and the Philosophy of Natural Law, pp. 22-45. The Hague: Martinus Nijoff, 1970.

[In this excerpt from his study of Montesquieu's application of the idea of natural law, Waddicor examines Montesquieu's relationship to other philosophers of natural law, and to other advocates of the scientific method. In particular, Waddicor analyzes Montesquieu's methodological debt to Descartes, as well as the influence of both classical and early modern authors.]


It is often thought that the président's method of studying...

(The entire section is 11779 words.)

Stephen J. Rosow (essay date 1984)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Rosow, Stephen J. “Commerce, Power and Justice: Montesquieu on International Politics,” Review of Politics 46, 3 (1984): 346-66.

[In this essay, Rosow explores the relationship between Montesquieu's study of history and his ideas about international politics, with a focus on the development of commerce.]

What we remember most today as the liberal tradition of international relations theory are the free trade theories of the nineteenth century and the idealist theories of organization and world order of the early twentieth. That pre-nineteenth century formulations should have used liberal theories of commerce and international law explicitly as a realistic...

(The entire section is 8117 words.)

Judith Shklar (essay date 1987)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Shklar, Judith. “The Spirit of the Laws: necessity and freedom.” In Montesquieu, pp. 93-110. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

[In this excerpt from her study of Montesquieu's works, Shklar begins by examining the development of Montesquieu's theory of culture, or the cumulative reasons that different regions and peoples adopt different systems of government; she also critiques his theory, suggesting that he overemphasized psychology. Shklar also discusses the importance of commerce to Montesquieu's notions of government and the function of laws.]

The second part of The Spirit of the Laws deals with the ways in which the physical...

(The entire section is 6345 words.)

Anne M. Cohler (essay date 1988)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Cohler, Anne M. “Liberty.” In Montesquieu's Comparative Politics and the Spirit of American Constitutionalism, pp. 98-119. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988.

[In this excerpt from her study of Montesquieu's influence on American politics, Cohler relates Montesquieu's idea of liberty to the structure of the American federal government and the doctrine of the separation of powers. Cohler also emphasizes Montesquieu's belief that not all citizens were equally able to possess liberty, noting his aristocratic sympathies.]

We have been taught that political liberty, as the end of political life, is a result of the view that men are by nature equal and...

(The entire section is 9145 words.)

E. J. Hundert and Paul Nelles (essay date 1989)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Hundert, E. J., and Paul Nelles. “Liberty and Theatrical Space in Montesquieu's Political Theory: The Poetics of Public Life in the Persian Letters,Political Theory 17, 2 (1989): 223-46.

[In this essay, Hundert and Nelles support the argument advanced by Judith Shklar that Montesquieu describes liberty as requiring a theatrical public sphere, adding that the Persian Letters reflect Montesquieu's earlier explorations of this idea. The authors focus on the structure and genre of the novel to demonstrate how Montesquieu uses the unusual form of the epistolary novel to advance his political philosophy.]

“The crowns and...

(The entire section is 9772 words.)

Roger Boesche (essay date 1990)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Boesche, Roger. “Fearing Monarchs and Merchants: Montesquieu's Two Theories of Despotism,” Western Political Quarterly 43, 4 (1990): 741-61.

[In this essay, Boesche looks at the theories of despotism present in Montesquieu's De l'Esprit de lois and The Persian Letters. Caught between fear of a too-powerful sovereign and a too-selfish merchant class, Boesche argues, Montesquieu contradicts himself in presenting two significantly different portraits of a despotic society.]

Although he did not invent the word despotism, Montesquieu more than any other author established it in that lexicon of political and politicized words—words such as...

(The entire section is 8971 words.)

Alan Gilbert (essay date 1994)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Gilbert, Alan. “‘Internal Restlessness’: Individuality, and Community in Montesquieu,” Political Theory 22, 1 (1994): 45-70.

[In this essay, Gilbert draws out the ethical bases of Montesquieu's philosophy, linking his sense of moral justice to his vision of a liberal, interdependent society. Gilbert focuses on Montesquieu's use of the English model to flesh out his interpretation of Montesquieu's ideal commercial state.]


In Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu began his argument with a striking contrast of the virtue-based politics of ancient small warrior republics and the honor-based...

(The entire section is 10146 words.)

Diana J. Schaub (essay date 1995)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Schaub, Diana J. “Montesquieu's Untraditional Despotism.” In Erotic Liberalism: Women and Revolution in Montesquieu's Persian Letters, pp. 19-39. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995.

[In this excerpt from her study of Montesquieu's Persian Letters, Schaub discusses Montesquieu's concept of despotism, comparing it to the political philosophy of Tocqueville, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke. Schaub links Montesquieu's own philosophy to his positive view of pleasure and sexuality, embodied in the Persian Letters in his treatment of the women of the seraglio.]

Because the Persian Letters is concerned with the articulation of despotic...

(The entire section is 10473 words.)

Christopher Betts (essay date 1997)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Betts, Christopher. “Constructing Utilitarianism: Montesquieu on Suttee in the Letters Persanes,French Studies 51, 1 (January, 1997): 19-29.

[In this essay, Betts casts a critical eye on Letter 125 of Montesquieu's Persian Letters, in which Montesquieu condemns the Hindu custom of sati, to demonstrate that the principles underlying his argument anticipate the Utilitarianism of a later era. Betts also raises the possibility that the coded message of the letter is not anti-Hindu but anti-Christian.]

The one hundred and twenty-fifth letter of the Lettres persanes, the text of which will be found at the end of this article,...

(The entire section is 4927 words.)

Sharon Krause (essay date 1999)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Krause, Sharon. “The Politics of Distinction and Disobedience: Honor and the Defense of Liberty in Montesquieu,” Polity 31, 3 (1999): 469-99.

[In this essay, Kraus applies the philosophy of Montesquieu's De l'esprit des lois to modern American politics, arguing that his concept of honor is necessary to contain the growth of sovereign power and to protect individual liberties. Acknowledging that honor is not wholly virtuous, Krause suggests that honor nonetheless works to channel personal ambition for the public good instead of attempting to suppress self-interest altogether.]

Why do men and women sometimes risk their necks to defend their liberties?...

(The entire section is 14858 words.)